Govt won't win Oscar for army propaganda
South Korean movie Parasite won the Oscar. The country's recent drama series Crash Landing on You, featuring an impossible love story between a North Korean soldier and South Korean billionaire heiress also had many Thai viewers swooning over the gentlemanly officer and his romance.
What if this kind of goodwill and adoration could be transferred to Thai soldiers?
If so many people can go crazy about the fictional Captain Ri Jeong-hyuk as evidenced by the series's record-breaking ratings, why can't we generate a Thai equivalent of his gallant character?
Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha may have been thinking along these lines when he assigned the Ministry of Culture to join hands with the Ministry of Defence to produce films and TV series about Thai military heroism.
The aim is to whip up a sense of patriotism. If the movies and drama series go well, one wonders whether a wave of T-Pop could also sweep across the continent earning the country both fame and fortune?
According to news reports, the project's working group is gearing up to make one such movie this year to be presented as a "New Year gift" to Thais.
Is this a good idea? Seriously, when the government crash-lands state-sponsored films or TV dramas on you, is it a gift or propaganda?
The military-cheering films and series have gone under the radar for now. They have not been widely reported. No details are available either about how they will be financed or who will be commissioned to produce them.
It's noteworthy though that the project seems to have come at an opportune time as the army has come under fierce attack after one of its soldiers raided a cache and went on a shooting rampage, killing 29 people in Nakhon Ratchasima.
Why must this project be about films and drama series? This is not surprising as PM Gen Prayut has let it be known on several occasions that he is a fan of Korean dramas. Four years ago in 2016, the PM publicly urged Thai people to watch the then hit series Descendants of the Sun.
He said he was fond of the series because it portrayed patriotism and self-sacrifice. He also said he would like the Thai entertainment industry to produce this kind of drama as he believed it could help reduce conflict in society.
When South Korea's President Moon Jae-in paid a visit to Thailand last year, PM Gen Prayut also told his counterpart that he was especially fond of the military-inspired series.
Why is it not a good idea for the Thai government to have its own Crash Landing on You or Descendants of the Sun then?
The answer is simple. It's because it's very unlikely the Thai government will be able to create works of the same or similar quality with its narrow-minded mentality and top-down work culture.
It did not take a Prime Minister's order to produce the internationally acclaimed Parasite or the raft of drama series that have become the most effective vanguard of Korea's soft power. What it took were critical minds, freedom of expression, the courage to face up to one's ugly past and genuine support for artists and creativity.
Without a collective open-mindedness and maturity, it would be nearly impossible for critically acclaimed works to be born. Can the Thai government come up with a movie that lays bare social inequalities like Parasite when it does not even want to mention the poor or reveal how are they living?
Will the government-sponsored "movie gift" to Thais dare to portray corrupt army officers who extort their subordinates, take bribes and kill to make a living as seen in Crash Landing on You?
For now, the film project's working group has shortlisted three story themes to develop into film scripts.
The first one concerns heroic acts of Thai soldiers on international battlefields including the Korean War, Vietnam War and both World Wars.
The second relates to the military's abilities to defend our territories against foreign threats such as in the 1893 Franco-Siamese war and 1941's Battle of Koh Chang.
The third involves the role of the army in tackling armed conflicts among Thais who upheld different political ideologies such as the fight against communist insurgents at Khao Kho in 1970s.
That all the short-listed stories involve a look into the past is one thing. That the keywords for all the plots seem one-dimensional describing only "military heroism", "valour" and "gallantry" are another. The question, after all, is who needs more military propaganda? If the government has so much money left, how about a documentary on the army's arms caches and how susceptible they are to being robbed?
Columnist for the Bangkok Post
Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.